Stop Illegally Selling Opioids Online, FDA Warns

By Kelly Burch 08/31/18

Over the summer, the FDA has issued warnings to 70 websites. 

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The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning this week to the operators of 21 websites that the administration says sell mislabeled and illegal opioids to Americans. 

The websites, which are run by four companies, have been “illegally marketing potentially dangerous, unapproved, and misbranded versions of opioid medications, including tramadol,” according to a press release issued by the FDA on Tuesday (August 28). 

“The illegal online sale of opioids represents a serious risk to Americans and is helping to fuel the opioid crisis. Cutting off this flow of illicit internet traffic in opioids is critical, and we’ll continue to pursue all means of enforcement to hinder online drug dealers and curb this dangerous practice,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in the news release.

Over the summer, the FDA has issued similar warnings to 70 websites. 

“The FDA remains resolute in our promise to continue cracking down on these networks to protect the public health,” Gottlieb said. “We have more operations underway, and additional actions planned. We are also working closely with legitimate Internet stakeholders, including leading social media sites, in these public health efforts.”

People who buy their opioids online can often wind up with expired, counterfeit or contaminated pills, according to the FDA. Some of the pills are marketed under one name, but are really just pressed fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid. On CNBC’s Squawk Box, Gottlieb said that online sales are making the ongoing opioid crisis worse.

"As we see doctors prescribe fewer opioids, we're fearful that more and more of the new addiction is going to shift to illicit sources, and a lot of those illicit sales are taking place online," he said on Tuesday.

The four companies that received warnings on Tuesday were CoinRX,, and PharmaMedics. They have 10 days to respond to the FDA’s letter, outlining the specific actions that they will take to avoid selling illegal opioids to Americans. If the companies do not respond they may face legal action. 

On Wednesday, Gottlieb said that the FDA will continue to aggressively pursue companies and practices that make opioids too easily available. 

“The reason that we find ourselves with a crisis of such proportion is that as a medical profession, we’ve been one step behind its sinister advance,” he said in a press release.

“Collectively, we didn’t take all the steps we could, when we could, to stop the advance of this crisis. We shunned hard decisions. As a profession, providers were too liberal in our use of these drugs well past the point where there were signs of trouble, and the beginning of a crisis of addiction. I’m committed to making sure that we don’t perpetuate these mistakes of the past. And so, when we see this crisis taking new twists and turns, we’ve acted swiftly.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.